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A Rabbi's Letter to the Boy Scouts About Equality

A Rabbi's Letter to the Boy Scouts About Equality

The following is a letter I sent last week to the Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Nashville, TN. A native of Nashville, I once belonged to Troop 31, sponsored by St. Georges Episcopal Church.

Dear Friends,

I am writing as a rabbi and as one who became an Eagle Scout in 1966. From 1963 to 1972, I spent time each summer at the Stahlman Camp of the Boxwell Reservation in Middle Tennessee.   From 1970 – 72, I worked on the waterfront there. In 1970, I attended the National Camping School of the BSA and in 1971 was an instructor in that school. I was also honored by being Order of the Arrow. At one time, I was even considering a career path in the BSA.

I am writing to express my significant disappointment that the Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts of America has announced that it would not support a proposed policy change that would open membership to young people who are openly gay.

In all my years of scouting, I cannot think of one minute wherein I was encouraged to discriminate against another scout. I grew up during the Civil Rights era in Nashville. The first significant friendships and relationships that I had with African-American youth my age occurred at Boxwell. I learned there that social justice and treating others with respect and fairness were integral parts of scouting and the Scout Law. Specifically, I learned from the Scout Law that “A Scout is Friendly. A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.”

I can hardly see how discrimination against openly gay young people and openly gay adults who wish to work as patrol dads and/or Scout leaders is not an egregious violation of the Scout Law.

Around the country, educators – myself included – are actively working to curtail bullying. This ban actually makes it more likely that bullying will occur and that significant harm will occur to gay youth, adults and their families around the country. I also wish to point out that most distressingly LGBT youth experience significantly higher rates of suicide. These children and their families must not be denied the opportunities to achieve as well as the structures of support that the Boy Scouts already provide to so many.

Personally, I am not gay. I am the proud father of three wonderful children and the devoted husband to my wife for 38 years. As I Jew, I have seen only all too recently the terrible effects of discrimination against the Jewish people. The recent history of the Jews in World War II illustrates the terrible consequences of bias and bigotry, even when sanctioned by the majority of people within a society. Accordingly, I am appalled by the statement that this decision was based upon research during which “of about 3,000 surveyed, 66% said openly gay youths should not be allowed to participate in Scouting. About 15.7% said gay Scouts should be allowed. The rest were neutral.” Basic human rights should never be subject to the will of the majority. When I was growing up, I learned that the Scout Law applied to everyone, not just to those who were popular, Christian, white or heterosexual.   

Jewish tradition here is fully congruent with the best of the Scout Law when it teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God. This is also entirely congruent with the twelfth Scout Law, “A Scout is Reverent” which obviously I take very seriously. That stamp of the divine applies to us all!

Therefore, I would like to urge you to support the lifting of the BSA's policy of discrimination that currently impacts both children and adults. When that occurs, I would look forward once again to participating again in the worthy work of the BSA.

Rabbi Fred Guttman

Rabbi Fred Guttman serves Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.

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